Just recently, BBC Culture released a list of the 100 greatest American films ever made. It’s a terrific countdown with Citizen Kane claiming the top spot, followed by The Godfather and Vertigo. The list additionally recognized several new classics like The Dark Knight and Mulholland Drive. BBC’s list got me thinking, though, whatever happened to the American Film Institute’s 100 Years… series?
This series began in 1998 when the AFI polled together 1,500 film artists to compile a list for 100 Years…100 Movies. The special aired on CBS and an extended version split into 10 parts aired on TNT. Like BBC’s list, Citizen Kane came out on top with Casablanca nabbing the #2 spot and The Godfather coming in at #3. The AFI’s 100 Years… series would continue for several consecutive years, coming out with lists for cinematic stars, laughs, thrills, passions, heroes & villains, songs, quotes, and cheers. The AFI additionally released lists of the top 25 film scores and movie musicals, but neither were televised.
In 2007, the AFI updated the list that started it all with AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition). The list went through numerous changes with 23 films getting kicked off and 23 new films making the cut. In terms of ranking, 36 films rose up and 38 films went down. Only three films held on to their original spots: The Best Years of Our Lives at #37, The Godfather Part II at #32, and Citizen Kane at #1.
The AFI came out with only one more 100 list after that. Well, technically it wasn’t a top 100 list, but 10 top 10 lists. AFI’s 10 Top 10 encompassed the absolute best in the animation, romantic comedy, western, sports, mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, gangster, courtroom drama, and epic genres. Their 100 Years… series as since been seemingly discontinued with no new lists coming out as of 2008.
On one hand, you could argue that the AFI exhausted every top 100 list imaginable. There’s still a lot of other topics the AFI could cover, however, such as the top 100 directors, iconic characters, and cinematic moments. Many of their older lists are also overdue for an update with Spike Jonze’s Her missing from 100 Passions, Let It Go missing from 100 Songs, and various Judd Apatow comedies missing from 100 Laughs. At this point, though, we’d be lucky to see AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (20th Anniversary Edition) in 2016.
While it’s too bad that the AFI’s 100 Years… series is pretty much dead, the real shame is that viewing the previous specials has proven exceedingly difficult. According to the AFI website, “Due to licensing restrictions, the telecasts of the AFI 100 Years…100 Series are not available for distribution or purchase on DVD or VHS.” The original broadcasts of 100 Movies, 100 Stars, and the 10 Anniversary can be found on DVD via Amazon, although they will cost you a bundle. Some of the other 100 lists can also be found on VHS too, but are extremely rare. If you’re lucky, you may be able to find a copy of them on eBay.
As somebody who adores movies, I implore the AFI and CBS to release all of the 100 Years… specials on DVD and Blu-ray sets. They’re truly marvelous specials that deserve to be seen by film lovers everywhere. At the very least, it’d be great to see CBS or another network re-air each telecast. This would be the perfect way to lead up to a 20th Anniversary Edition if the AFI decides to revive the tradition. Whatever happens, one thing is for certain: Nothing is dethroning Citizen Kane as the greatest American movie any time soon.